Every three years in New Zealand, incumbent politicians must hit the campaign trail. Since 2008, I have chased votes in the Rongotai electorate. My Labour opponent, Annette King, has held the seat since 1996. She is a fine parliamentarian, a thoroughly nice person, and also a distant cousin on my mother’s side. ‘Chris says if he wins Rongotai, he’ll ask for a recount,’ she delights in telling voters. This is supposed to be a joke but, under New Zealand’s mixed member proportional voting system, winning individual seats is not the be all and end all. The number of seats a party has in Parliament is determined by a party vote, and local representatives by a separate electorate vote. As a list MP standing in a traditional left seat my job is to maximise the party vote for National.
The Rongotai electorate takes in Wellington’s rugged southern coast, the Miramar Peninsula and the working class suburbs of Newtown and Berhampore, which are fast gentrifying and turning from red to green. Its furthest boundary is the Chatham Islands, an archipelago around 700km from the mainland. It is a place of isolated natural beauty, rich cultural history, abundant fisheries and distinctively salty mutton. On my most recent trip, the twin-propeller plane was struck by lightning and my stay had to be extended by two days. There is no cellular reception in the Chathams, adding to its attractiveness.
The Newtown debate is usually the rowdiest of the campaign. In 2011, I was shoved by an Anglican vicar as I made my way out. This year, there are ten candidates lined up across the stage facing the audience squeezed into a wooden church hall. The crowd has a very particular strand of rule-bound, suburban radicalism: every mention of ‘revolution’ is cheered, but the audience will not allow proceedings to begin while party signs are blocking the fire exits. Along with Annette, the candidates include Russel Norman, a Tasmanian who relocated to New Zealand to work for the Green Party and now, holding the office of Male Co-leader, campaigns against foreign ownership. He finds himself fighting candidates from the populist Conservative and New Zealand First parties for the xenophobe vote. The Newtown audience thinks I am insufferably right wing but also thinks the same about the Greens and Labour. Dr Norman is accused of dismissing victims of sexual assault. Annette King gets a frosty reception for her party’s track record on Maori issues. I am roundly booed when I say the audience is ‘redistributionist’. More popular are a young man dressed as a shark and representing the Climate Party (his contribution to the debate is ‘learn to swim’) and also the candidate for the Patriotic Revolutionary Front. The PRF wants a benevolent dictatorship and has a leaflet showing a composite picture of Stalin and Einstein as its ideal leader. . .
It’s not just what he says but the way that he says it.
Oh to have the ability to write so eruditely, and also to have been a better Latin scholar.
Can anyone translate his quote (in the paragraph which follows the extract I’ve used) from Horace: parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus ?
I tried Google and got the mountains are in labour, security issues. Even without dim memories of third form Latin I would doubt that is what it means.